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Public Statements

Water Resources Development Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Ms. CANTWELL. Madam President, I would like to thank Chairman Baucus and Senator Murray for their support and resolve to work to address the issue of cargo diversion posed by the harbor maintenance tax.

The Water Resources Development Act that we are discussing here today is an important bill that works to ensure the economic success of our Nation's waterways. The language we were able to include in this bill is just the start of our effort to address the serious issue of cargo diversion and international competition. It gives deep-water ports the ability to more cost-effectively utilize the funds raised by the harbor maintenance tax to keep competitive with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Over the past decade, we have seen increasing competition for the market share of U.S.-bound goods from ports beyond our border to the north and to the south. These diversions can be partially attributed to the added cost of paying the harbor maintenance tax at U.S. ports. In fact, among the top 25 North American ports, the fastest growing in 2012 were the Port of Prince Rupert in Canada and the Port of Lazaro Cardenas in Mexico. Instead of U.S.-bound cargo creating growth of U.S. ports, we are witnessing this cargo, previously shipped through our west coast ports, contributing to the growth of Canadian and Mexican ports. The loss of cargo shipments through American ports leads to decreased port activity and export capacity, and it erodes the harbor maintenance trust fund, which means fewer direct and indirect American jobs supporting U.S. international commerce. More than 200,000 jobs are tied to the activities at the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, and with nearly 27 percent of international container cargo potentially at risk of moving to Canada from west voast ports, this could result in significant job losses.

Cargo diversion is not my only concern with the harbor maintenance tax. I also am concerned by the poor utilization of the funds collected and the disparate distribution of the funds that are allocated. As of 2011, the balance of the harbor maintenance trust fund has built up to more than $6.4 billion. We should be investing this balance for its designed purpose of improving the ability of our ports to move goods. Furthermore, the harbor maintenance trust fund balance is rarely spent on operations and maintenance at west coast ports, where a significant amount of the tax revenue is generated. Our two largest ports in Washington Seattle and Tacoma generate, on average, close to 7 percent of the funding for the HMTF, but each received just over a penny for every dollar collected from shippers who pay the HMT in Seattle and Tacoma.

To remain competitive in an international marketplace, we need a long-term plan for how to grow and support infrastructure development and that must include reform of the harbor maintenance tax. Essential to remaining competitive is the ability of our ports to shorten the time it takes to get goods to consumers. This means we must invest in the infrastructure of our ports and freight corridors something that I have worked with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on to more quickly deliver the goods from our ports to the rest of the Nation. If we don't make these infrastructure investments, America will face major opportunity costs. We are seeing this already with the cargo diversion to Canada from the Pacific Northwest. But I must warn my colleagues that the competition is only increasing and will spread throughout the country with major ports planned or coming online in Canada and Mexico on both coasts, as well as the forthcoming expansion of the Panama Canal. Now is the time to address the harbor maintenance tax and reverse cargo diversion by reforming this tax and better utilizing the money it generates.

Today Chairman Baucus is proposing that we work together to address the competitive imbalances created by the harbor maintenance tax. While we acknowledge the work done to improve the spending out of the harbor maintenance trust fund collections in the Water Resources Development Act, we believe the efforts are just a starting point. Many of the underlying tax and trade issues cannot be addressed in this legislation. We believe it is important to clarify our intent to move on comprehensive reforms the harbor maintenance tax on the next available and appropriate legislative vehicle.


Ms. CANTWELL. Madam President, as we consider S. 601, the Water Resources Development Act, specifically amendment No. 903, I want to highlight critical emerging needs in our Nation's arctic.

The arctic is opening at an alarming rate, which creates a number of economic opportunities for the Nation. This accessibility also creates new requirements for the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy. Multiple bipartisan Presidential directives call for increased arctic presence to meet national security and homeland security needs; to facilitate safe, secure, and reliable navigation; to protect maritime commerce; and to protect the environment as resource development increases.

With new shipping lanes and opportunities to obtain and transport natural resources, the arctic has become a new frontier. We need to have arctic infrastructure ready to accommodate this increase in commerce.

That is why I have worked closely with Senator Begich to fight for heavy-duty icebreakers and other arctic infrastructure. We need to make sure the Coast Guard acquires the tools they need to fulfill their missions in the arctic.

In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers is in the final phase of a study which assesses feasibility of deep draft ports in the arctic. The corps assessed over 3,000 miles of Alaskan coastline and identified a shortlist of two possible deep draft ports in Nome and Port Clarence.

The U.S. Department of the Interior released a report on emerging Federal management needs in the arctic in March 2013. The report, titled ``Managing for the Future in a Rapidly Changing Environment,'' found that the U.S. arctic habitat encompasses St. Lawrence Island Northward, based on physical oceanography, seasonal sea ice, and other ecosystem characteristics. These northern seas are vastly different and require unique infrastructure compared to the majority of the Bering Sea, Alaska.

It is the intent of this bill that these arctic deep draft ports are present in the arctic. And while there has been some dispute on how the U.S. arctic is defined, both the Army Corps study and the Department of the Interior report indicate the importance of deep draft ports in close proximity to the Arctic Circle, 66 degrees North. This is where ports of refuge, natural resource shipping, oilspill response, commercial shipping, and other commercial opportunities require a deep draft port.

These key findings identify ports that must be prioritized when considering deep water draft port development in the arctic, where the Federal Government has a role including technical assistance outlined in amendment 903.


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